REVIEW: STRESS RELIEF… WHILE IN SPACE!

IMAGE+OF+OUTER+WILD%27S+GAME+ART%0A

Photographs courtesy of MEDIUM.COM

IMAGE OF OUTER WILD'S GAME ART

It may not be midterm time, but my stress has still been mounting consistently over the past few weeks. Between essays, writing these articles and a thousand other things, I have been ready to explode. With that in mind, I decided to take a break this week and review a video game I thought would provide a relaxing atmosphere. The very basic premise of Outer Wilds made it sound like a perfect candidate. Putting you in the shoes of a newly-minted astronaut, the game tasks players with flying a space craft around a solar system with a few mysterious planets to explore. With no combat to speak of and a gorgeous soundtrack full of quaint, atmospheric banjo, I thought I found my ideal game. I was somewhat wrong. No major story spoilers beyond this point.

Pro gamer tip: always read the full premise of a game before you buy it. You might miss important details. For example, you might buy a relaxing space flight/exploration simulator only to discover that the game’s plot revolves around a Groundhog Day time loop where the sun explodes every 20 minutes. You might also spend 12 hours trying to figure out the mystery of why this is happening because you are too stubborn to look at one of the conveniently published strategy guides or read the Wikipedia summary. As you can probably tell, I have had a hell of a time playing this game.

The 20-minute time limit might make this game sound like an extremely stressful experience, and it definitely can be, but that did not prevent me from fully enjoying the environments I explored. I would chalk this up to the fact that the game does not force the time limit into your face. There is no timer ticking on your screen. There is no dialogue warning you of the final countdown. There is just you, your ship and whatever planet you choose to explore. Knowing that the end was always coming, but not knowing the exact time forced me to take my time and fully explore the myriad environments I found myself in.

Story-wise, Outer Wilds does bring a compelling narrative to the table. The only issue I do have with this story is that I cannot talk about it much without ruining the game. It is the kind of thing you have to take the time to explore yourself in order to fully appreciate it. What I can say is that the thematic obsession with the oppressive limits of time space is applied in unique ways that build compelling story beats. My favorite example of this thematic application is in the planet Brittle Hollow. This unassuming gray rock boasts an impressive amount of secrets you do need to explore in order to complete the story – but good luck doing so. The planet has a massive black hole at its center that is constantly pulling the planet in on itself. This game may lack combat, but it does not suffer from a deficiency of deadly pitfalls that kept me on my toes throughout.

There were times I wanted to abandon this game. This was mostly because of the steep learning curve that I had to navigate. I never learned how to land successfully which led to a lot of me crashing and occasionally flying into the sun. The “figure everything out on your own” approach, while rewarding overall, is a colossal pain in the a** when you are trying to get through this game. I personally recommend looking up a hint page rather than a full guide. My persistence won out in the end and I am glad it did. The atmosphere and story that Outer Wilds brings to the table is worth your time and effort but do not go into it if you are expecting an easy run. As of now the game is on PS4 and Xbox One with a PC release on the way. You can also find the soundtrack for the game on Spotify (it has space banjos. What more could you want?).